by Monica Valentinelli
I mentioned in Marketing, Sales, and Publicity, Part One: The Basics, that there’s a lot of time involved in marketing; publicity is no different. In the conclusion to this two-part article, I’m going to talk more about publicity. Here, hours are spent plotting when, where, and how different events are going to happen. Good publicity campaigns are scheduled on a calendar to ensure a better and more consistent reach; bad ones are conducted ad hoc and are poorly planned. A few tweets or blog posts here and there doesn’t qualify as a publicity campaign.
Is book publicity necessary? In my mind: yes. Do you need a publicist? It depends! I’ve long felt that authors are small business owners; what publicity means to an author is going to vary widely depending upon the resources available. Do you have time to research conventions? Update your website? Plan a book or blog tour? Do all this and write new books, too? What is your time worth to you?
There are pros and cons to hiring a book publicist. Let’s start with the cons. Maybe they aren’t qualified. Maybe they charge too much. Maybe their communication and reporting is sub-par. Maybe they don’t have enough contacts to make it worth your while. Ending with the pros, there is one that shoots to the top of my list: publicists can save you a lot of time and headaches so you can devote your energy to writing. Maybe they managed to slot you in a reading with [insert very famous author] here. Maybe you’re speaking in front of 1000s of college students. Maybe your publisher noted a spike in book sales after your latest event.
Regardless of how you feel about book publicists, it could be more expensive for you to focus your efforts on publicity yourself – especially if you haven’t done that sort of thing before or you’re not computer-savvy. Again, leverage the research hours necessary into your decision-making process and calculate if you can afford to not write for “x” amount of hours. What other factors exist that you can weigh into your decision? Take a look at what one publicist, Jaym Gates, says she does in her role:
“As a publicist, my job is to bring attention to both product and client, and not just to move units. It’s less of a hard-sell, and more of a conversation. Why will the customer like this thing, and why should they like the people making it? Why should they commit their time and resources to a long-term support of my client? I also have to prepare for bad results, bad feedback, bad publicity. My job is to mitigate damage and turn it into a positive for the client.” – Jaym Gates, SFWA Publicist.
Gates’ last comment, about mitigating damage, is something I’d like to expand upon further. If you have a good relationship with your publicist, that person can act as a buffer, a sounding board for you to vent to when you’re pissed off or frustrated with a review, blogger, etc. When you’re working for yourself, it can be a detriment to not have a third party acting on your behalf when a campaign goes horribly wrong.
Next to poor planning, I’ve found that a lack of data (or the existence of overly aggressive/idealized goals) is primarily why publicity campaigns fail. Publicity should never be about reaching as many people as possible – that is pure folly in an age where almost everyone has a book to promote. A sustainable long-term goal is to “target your market” because this is more achievable than to “promote everywhere.” An example of my philosophy would be to shape a dedicated readership and leverage tools to promote your books to those readers and, over time, grow that audience as you add new content. But, without data to back up any publicity efforts, the emphasis often falls on saturating channels to get the word out to as many people as possible. Personally, I feel that’s a waste of resources.
Circling back to the beginning, I mentioned that there are a lot of conversations happening about what authors are required to do in order to promote their books. I asked Jason Sizemore to share his publisher’s expectations:
“I expect an author to play a basic and active role in the promotion of his or her book. That means being available for a reasonable amount of online and phone interviews, taking advantage of opportunities when they arise such as Scalzi’s “Big Idea” feature, and to provide logistical support to Apex for marketing purposes (giving us leads for promotion, using your Rolodex for the greater good of making money).” – Jason Sizemore, Editor-In-Chief Apex Publications.
Book publicity (and author platform) requirements will vary widely and may depend upon what your publisher (or agent) wants you to do; these should also depend upon your goals (both short-and-long term), time-constraints, flexibility, and publications, too. For example, it may not make financial sense to go on a book tour for an anthology you contributed to, but it might for your trilogy’s debut. Again, you have limited resources. Use them wisely.
Here, the point I wish to make is that I feel it’s a bad idea to ignore your publisher when you’re promoting your book. Work with them. If you haven’t heard what their expectations are – ask them. You may be surprised to hear what they have to say or offer.
To close, I’d like to bring up the three most common reasons why authors want to dive into marketing themselves. This list is, by no means, exhaustive and these are statements I’ve heard multiple times. (You may have others to add as well.) They are: “my publisher didn’t do a good job marketing my book” or “I can make more money self-publishing and marketing my book myself” or “what can a publisher do for me that I can’t do for myself?” Based on what I’ve shared with you here, can you see that there may be more to book marketing than at first glance?
Hopefully, my brief overview will help you understand why marketing and publicity are not topics to be taken lightly. If I had one piece of advice to give here, it’d be to not base your publicity efforts on what everyone else is doing. Not only is your time precious, some trends may not make sense for you. If you are promoting yourself and your books, make up a percentage-based rule. For example, spend 80% of your time working on what you know is effective and 20% on experiments.
As I (and others) have pointed out, there are a lot of moving parts – some visible, some not – with respect to marketing and promoting a book. Those details for a single book will vary widely depending upon the publisher, format (e.g. ebook, print, audio) of publication, publicity channel, and type of retailer.
Author Bio: Monica Valentinelli is a writer, editor, game designer, and freelancer. Described as a “force of nature” by her peers, Monica is best known for her work in the horror, dark fantasy, and dark science fiction genres and has over thirty stories and games published through 2012. In addition to her writing and editing credits, Monica has over ten years marketing experience and has worked behind-the-scenes with businesses large and small. For more about Monica, visit http://www.mlvwrites.com.